Is it Wrong to Talk People Out of Their Faith?

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"Why would you want to take away someone's faith if it gives them comfort?"

If you've done a good job discussing faith/religion/god with a believer, then you'll probably hear something like this. To get to this point, you must have already disarmed all of their evidence and reasoning, or else they'd provide some more of that since, despite some people's behavior, everyone knows that it's immeasurably more convincing to present an argument based on facts than on feelings. That's why the first, knee-jerk attempts at these defenses of religion usually start with "OK, well if there's no God how do you explain…?". Tugging at your heartstrings by changing the discussion from "Is this true?" to "Why do you want to make people feel bad?" is the dialectical equivalent of sad puppy eyes. Please don't make me sleep in my room, Mommy; I'm scared!


Nevertheless, it is effective. Most people are nice and have a hard time with the idea of taking something away from people against their will. This tactic is designed to paint you as a cold, heartless, unfeeling robot with a defective compassion module – the kind of person who tells a kid her goldfish died instead of just replacing it while she's at school. You monster, you made your daughter cry! Never mind that it effectively concedes the question of the truth of the religion in question (What does it matter if it's true? It's the only thing keeping people from committing mass suicide!) Or that it is incredibly patronizing to assume that most people are so weak that they can't deal with the truth. What's really at stake here is that the argument has shifted to whether or not the believer should continue using their justifications (which they've already discovered are not very good arguments) to believe in something that they think is helping them, even if it may be only a fantasy.

 

I think at this point it's important to first redirect the conversation with "We aren't talking about whether it's comforting, we're talking about whether it's true or not. Do you think it's true?" Don't let the entire conversation be a waste of time for both of you by changing the subject just at the point where a conclusion should be reached. Also, if the answer is "I don't know", then that's a fantastic result and you should be happy; badgering someone into admitting they were wrong is likely to just get them angry at you and tarnish the conclusions with emotions. I feel like there are a lot of times when I've been at this point and not realized that I was moving the other person from a place of discovery and introspection to one of defensiveness and hurt (Sorry!). Let them struggle with it on their own. Think of it as a homework assignment.

 

Sometimes, though, that's not going to be enough. Sometimes someone will persist with belief in the usefulness of religion, even while admitting they don't know if it's true. This is basically a form of Pascal's Wager: "It might not be true, but I think it helps me so I'm going to believe it." I think this sort of clinging to a lost cause is even harder to reason someone out of than the good-old fashioned style of really believing in it, perhaps because in the latter case the problem is that the person is looking for the truth and just doing a bad job of it, while in the former case the problem is that the person doesn't care about the truth.

 

So what's so important about the truth, anyway (he said, halfway through the article)? Does it really matter if the little girl knows that her goldfish died or not? Why would a robot with a functioning compassion module (or a caring human being, if you absolutely insist) make the little girl cry by telling her the truth when there seem to be no consequences to letting her believe the fish is still alive, albeit a bit smaller and shinier? Three reasons:

 

First, hiding death from children just makes the first death that you can't cover up with a replacement that much more difficult to explain (assuming you don't have enough of these compassionate robots around to take the places of dying family members…). You're going to have to deal with it eventually, and it would be nice not to have to explain exactly what death is at the same time as having to deal with it yourself.

 

Second, should the kid find out that you've been lying to her, you're risking damaging her trust and potentially having the kid resent you for not treating them like a regular human being, or at least not expecting you to treat her like she has any agency whatsoever. Don't be surprised when she ignores your advice later because she thinks you see her as some helpless fool who can't take care of herself.

 

Third, suppose the replacement fish, Goldie II, dies a week later, then Goldie III dies a week after that, then Goldies IV, V, VI,… Eventually it becomes obvious that you're not very creative with names and that something is killing these fish. Now, had you explained that the fish died and talked about it, maybe you would have found out that your daughter has been giving the fish baths with dish soap, or adding salt to its tank every day because she heard you say that you "like your fish with a bit more salt" one night during dinner. Now you had to explain death to your daughter anyway, and now you can't even afford to console her with ice cream because you had to hire a plumber to unclog the gruesome evidence of your deception from your overworked plumbing.

 

Generalizing these reasons:

1.     The best way to figure out how to make life better is to know what's really going on. Mental disorders are not caused by demons, and taking psychiatric patients to an exorcist is wasteful at best and dangerous at worst. Likewise, falsely believing you'll see your family members again in the afterlife is at best useless and at worst devaluing the preciousness of the time you do have to spend with them. Falsely believing that God is watching out for you is at best useless and at worst dangerously biasing you to take bigger risks than you should.

2.     Treat people's capacity for self-determination with respect. Assuming that other people can't handle the truth and need the comfort of an unlikely religion is at best patronizing and at worst denying them the right to decide for themselves what to believe. (This is why raising children as "Christian children" or "Muslim children", or assigning any other dogmatic belief to them externally, is about as nauseating to me as the idea of raising them as "Democrat/Republican/Communist children".) 

3.     You never know what you're missing if you don't look for the truth. If you don't look deeper than the Bible to explain mental disorders, you'll never discover that some of them are treatable with medication.

If you never look deeper than your religion for comfort, you'll never notice all of the comfort that the scientific search for truth has provided us that you take for granted each time you proclaim that faith brings people comfort. Sure, the ancient Israelites were given some comfort by believing that God had a plan for them and would reward them, but they also lived an average lifespan of less than 40 years, dealt with infant mortality rates of around 25%, mostly couldn't read, starved when the weather changed unexpectedly, and had noxious breath and rotten teeth. I prefer the comfort of medical care, modern education techniques, agricultural technology, and toothpaste to believing that the consequences of their absence are a part of a divine plan any day. How about you?

 

 

Dustin Summy is an atheist and PhD candidate in Aeronautics at Caltech. Having grown up in the Bible Belt, he's seen the world from a religious perspective and is now a staunch proponent of the use of skepticism and critical thinking. You can read more of his thoughts on science, space flight, and religion at www.thedustinsummary.blogspot.com

 

Written By: Dustin Summy

101 COMMENTS

  1. Clearly not with this site that you are posting on….You can guide a horse to water but you cant make it drink…..it needs to take that leap by itself and make the realizations…slowly the drips will come – all falling into place all making sense as they accumulate…until your pool has no other choice but to overfloweth…

  2. Religious faith is basically an emotional and instinctual commitment, that is to say it is essentially irrational, and it can be very strong – strong enough to resist all reasoning. For this reason it is not, strictly speaking, possible to talk someone out of his or her faith. But I agree with the argument of this article, that much towards this end can be done by discussing evidence and reasons with someone of faith to the point where he or she sees that there is no evidence or valid reasoning that supports his or her faith and the tenets thereof. Throughout this process it is important that matters of truth be recognized as such, and that any claims of truth be understood as requiring evidence and valid reasoning. Because faith is not in itself a rational state of mind (though the religious believer’s reasons for faith may include rational considerations), the loss or rejection of faith is not something that can be achieved by rational discourse alone. Once the believer is aware that his faith has no claim to truth (no claim to knowledge of what is really the case), it is only decent to show him the personal respect due to him by leaving him alone to adjust to this new perspective. In time he may find that faith adds nothing real to his life but serves really as little more than a comfort blanket. Only then will the erstwhile religious believer begin to see himself as agnostic or nonreligious or atheistic.

    • In reply to #2 by Cairsley:

      Religious faith is basically an emotional and instinctual commitment, that is to say it is essentially irrational, and it can be very strong – strong enough to resist all reasoning. For this reason it is not, strictly speaking, possible to talk someone out of his or her faith.

      actually it is possible to reason someone out of faith provided they are intelligent and willing to listen. i personally have had success talking one of my best friends out of faith. over the course of about 5 months we had regular discussions and we watched science documentaries slowly he began to accept parts of my arguments and learn more about how things work. keep in mine this was a guy who was staunch in his belief in god he did not even fully accept evolution when we started. eventually it got to a point where he came to me and told me he simply could not believe in god anymore it just did not make sense to him. from there our discussions were not only about science and religion but how to live without god. at first he was very upset almost depressed but after many talks he is now a happy self proclaimed atheist.

      • In reply to #31 by kilvehk:

        actually it is possible to reason someone out of faith provided they are intelligent and willing to listen. i personally have had success talking one of my best friends out of faith. over the course of about 5 months we had regular discussions and we watched science documentaries slowly he began to accept parts of my arguments and learn more about how things work. …

        That is an edifying case you relate to us, Kilvehk, and not the kind of case that occurs very often. I would also remark that you did much more than merely “reason [your friend] out of faith”; you also supported him with your respect and friendship and gave him time to come to terms, step by step, with the rational conclusions that your discussions led him to, over those several months. You are right about the difference the religious believer’s attitude and willingness to listen, consider reasoned arguments and learn make to the whole process. Had I had an atheistic friend as thoughtful and loyal as you were with your religious friend, my life could have taken a very different course. You did well, Kilvehk.

  3. Hear hear! I think Dustin Summy has poached the ideas from my very own brain….or vice versa. I happen to place a very high value on truth as opposed to the quick fix of an expedient answer. It’s usually the more difficult path to take, but in the benefits can be seen in the long run.

  4. I would never talk anyone old out of their faith. I wouldn’t talk anyone dying out of their faith. No need to make people fearful when they haven’t time or neural plasticity to find some new mode of thinking.

    Further, you may not know the whole story of that “faith”. An atheist friend of mine got cancer and a rather gloomy prognosis. He became religious and our former discussions about our favourite author/philosopher Dan Dennett came to an awkward halt. He never wanted to discuss his new found religiosity with me. It was only after his death I learned of the great religiosity of his wife. She was deeply concerned he was going to hell. It seemed to be a final gift from him to her.

    I most certainly would seek to undermine the confidence of parents of their dogma. Religious faith may be the worst intellectual offense against children. This is a game for grown ups only. (And, incidentally, children are the very last people who need protecting from the fact of death. Americans, please also use the terms death and dead, not passing etc. Worse than trivialising a serious event it makes people out to be a kidney stone or a bowel movement.) No “mercy” for parents. Next to be challenged every time any who would proselytise.

    • In reply to #4 by phil rimmer:

      please also use the terms death and dead, not passing etc. Worse than trivialising

      I made a conscious decision to use the words death and dead many years ago after reading a book about our attitude to the subject. ( I forgotten the name and author, though it was a woman as I recall).

    • In reply to #4 by phil rimmer:

      I would never talk anyone old out of their faith. I wouldn’t talk anyone dying out of their faith. No need to make people fearful when they haven’t time or neural plasticity to find some new mode of thinking.

      It was only after his death I learned of the great religiosity of his wife. She was deeply concerned he was going to hell. It seemed to be a final gift from him to her.

      So sad that her religion made him feel the need to lie to her to protect her feelings. Isn’t it a pity that he had to live a lie for his last time on Earth. I understand him doing so but it highlights how religion forces us to compromise our beliefs, lie or shut up to protect those around us because they fail to accept the truth.

      • In reply to #32 by Reckless Monkey:

        In reply to #4 by phil rimmer:

        lie or shut up to protect those around us because they fail to accept the truth.

        I can only see what happened as magnificent. She was very quiet about her faith. (I have no idea how their kids grew up but I suspect it was substantially under his intellectual guidance, such was the nature of the man.) He lived his older age as an atheist and died as a man in love. Brought low by his illness he lacked any power to act in the world like he used to, except to be able to return some palliative care to his badly infected wife. That is the way to cross the finish line. He lost nothing, nor did anyone else.

        I have a very clear idea in my head about religion as a social disease, spread by abusers. The infected/abused deserve our compassion where it has adversely affected them. (I have elsewhere described faith as being like an intellectual HIV, it reduces your intellectual ability to resist any number of poisonous ideas).

        They deserve compassion except when they fall into the category of infective abusers. That is when any pity can be laid aside.

  5. I would also add that if by ‘talk’ you mean ‘guide’ someone along the way from their dark doubts to the light of free thinking ….then thats not wrong its liberating……..but I think we should clarify that atheists in general dont seek to ‘convert’ people to their way of thinking at all…..not like religion has done agressively to people in the name of their gods.

    atheism doesn’t try to collect associates or members….we are not members of a club – many of us are against clubs as such….atheism is the absence of belief in god and therefore the corruption of religion for perpertuating the notion of god …still even with modern scientific worldview to disprove the claims of religion it persists in indoctrinating people who need to be de briefed at some point

    when you say ‘faith’ what is meant is both hope and acceptance that something is true not because you know but because you’ve been told…..by who…..which authority knows better than other educated people…religious leaders ? I think not…If you wanted to know the true answers to the questions all humans ask would you really get an accurate response from your pastor or your science professor ? One relies on fact and the other has faith….good for him but thats not helpful or accurate…..we need facts to truly learn and progress not faith in god or religion…
    People who have faith in a personal god and dont subscribe to any religion are not really as problematic than faith in one of the organised religions….

  6. I tend to think in situations like this that our greatest strength at times can be a weakness. Really what we want is for people to think for themselves and to challenge ideas. As we inform those experiencing doubts we also have to make clear that they need not think exactly like we do, but should form their own opinions based on evidence and reason. If this way of thinking leads them to some of the same conclusions we have made then so be it.

    • In reply to #6 by Mormon Atheist:

      Very true. To look upon the efforts of the founder and members of this site, as attempted “conversion” is ill-founded. All of our species with full command of their faculties are open to education. However difficult it might seem.

      The sharing of fact and spreading of scientific material can never, in any way, (but one, read on) be described as “wrong”. Unlike the religious however, you shalln’t find atheists in terminal illness hospital wards spouting “it’s not too late”. This is probably the only scenario playing into the topic’s title.

      Because a half blind, dying, life long religious person isn’t going to gain anything from Sagan, Dawkins or Hitchens. Those abused into actually loving mistruths for a lifetime, are no longer fair candidates for liberation, I feel. So this is the only time when it is “wrong”, as any impact by a skilled orator would merely cause a sense of panic, confusion and regret leading up to death. Otherwise, GAME ON.

  7. In reply to:

    (What does it matter if it’s true? It’s the only thing keeping people from committing mass suicide!)

    Religion may be the main cause of suicides so i think you’ll be doing them a favour for talking them out of religion. If you believe in some wonderful “after life”, then you may give up the struggle if things get too tough, or you may subconsciously disregard this life by not making the most of every second. Some religious people cant wait to get to heaven so they blow shit up! However, if you don’t “believe” you will probably have more respect for this “one and only” life.

    • In reply to #7 by zula:

      In reply to:

      (What does it matter if it’s true? It’s the only thing keeping people from committing mass suicide!)

      Religion may be the main cause of suicides so i think you’ll be doing them a favour for talking them out of religion. If you believe in some wonderful “after life”, then you may give u…

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m on your side, but I thought the rationale was that committing suicide is a sin, therefore you give up your chance of a glorious afterlife by trying to jump the gun?

      • I’m on your side too, but I suppose it depends on the particular faith and how you rationalise your interpretation of it, and how you rationalise your own reason for suicide, but try telling that to dedicated extremist Muslims who will kill themselves and the innocent because their interpretation of the Koran says to do so, will it really get them to heaven and all its supposed benefits? It really depends on the interpretation that you believe in.

        In reply to #8 by Nitya:

        In reply to #7 by zula:

        In reply to:

        (What does it matter if it’s true? It’s the only thing keeping people from committing mass suicide!)

        Religion may be the main cause of suicides so i think you’ll be doing them a favour for talking them out of religion. If you believe in some wonderful “after l…

  8. I prefer individuals to discover their own beliefs at their own pace, on their own timeline, within their current cultural experience. I am no longer active in the Mormon church but having being raised a Mormon whose great grandfather was influential in establishing the Mormon church in Western Samoa, I find it reassuring to live in a predominantly Mormon community because I know how the people think and behave, yet I find myself dreading the knock on the door because Mormons are motivated to proselytize and will not leave a person alone. I find solace, inspiration, and intellectual satisfaction in Richard Dawkins.net while on my iPad in my shabby chic bed.

  9. I reject the whole notion of “talking someone out of their faith”. It’s based on a view of the world that I think is fundamentally wrong, that view that somehow you can choose to believe what the universe is like rather than try to use your reason to understand the universe. When I talk with a theist I’m not trying to change their belief the way I might argue to someone who likes blues rock music but doesn’t like Hendrix that he should listen to the song Red House and he will change his mind. I argue the way I would argue with someone over a theory in computer science or an interpretation of history or politics. Once you frame the question that way asking is it wrong to talk someone out of their belief really transforms into the question is it wrong to give someone better information or is it wrong to show them flaws in arguments that they currently accept as valid and the answer of course is obviously no it’s not wrong it’s what you do to someone you consider a friend.

  10. I almost never bring up religion out of nowhere in a conversation. No point to that. But if someone won’t keep their religion to themselves and starts to talk about their faith, I’ll be very quick to point out that I never took God/the Prophet/the Soul/whatever seriously in my life. [Because why should I?] If the subject is not dropped right away, I’ll present my arguments for why not.

    • In reply to #12 by Fouad Boussetta:

      I almost never bring up religion out of nowhere in a conversation. No point to that. But if someone won’t keep their religion to themselves and starts to talk about their faith, I’ll be very quick to point out that I never took God/the Prophet/the Soul/whatever seriously in my life. [Because why should I?]

      So if there actually was a supreme being that created the universe you would think that was, “meh” not so interesting? That’s as incomprehensible to me as are people who say they don’t really care about learning about evolution or the big bang.

      • In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

        So if there actually was a supreme being that created the universe you would think that was, “meh” not so interesting? That’s as incomprehensible to me as are people who say they don’t really care about learning about evolution or the big bang.

        That would be interesting, Red Dog, if there were any evidence of a supreme being to discuss. There is, however, no comparison between the evidence-based findings of evolutionary biology and astrophysics on the one hand and evidenceless assertions of the existence of a supreme being on the other. The latter is quite uninteresting if one is looking for an intelligent discussion, for it offers nothing real to discuss. Anyone asserting something without evidence or any kind of rational justification deserves to be challenged to back up his assertion, if he is to be taken seriously. Alas, evidence and valid arguments for the existence of a supreme being and the like never seem to be forthcoming and further discussion is a waste of time.

        • In reply to #52 by Cairsley:

          In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

          So if there actually was a supreme being that created the universe you would think that was, “meh” not so interesting? That’s as incomprehensible to me as are people who say they don’t really care about learning about evolution or the big bang.
          Maybe that is the problem. Male supervisors have been thinking with their dicks rather than their brains for too long, and she has overrated herself or underrated the establishment.

          I agree with everything you said. I’m just pointing out that IF there were evidence for a supreme being I would certainly find it interesting and worth knowing about. I hear the opposite point of view quite often from some atheists and I never get it. “Why should I care if there is a God?” to me that’s a sign of someone who doesn’t have much intellectual curiosity and no different than someone who says why should I care about evolution.

          Of course I agree there is no evidence for God but to me that is a very different question than whether or not it would be interesting if there was.

          • In reply to #58 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #52 by Cairsley:

            In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

            So if there actually was a supreme being that created the universe you would think that was, “meh” not so interesting? That’s as incomprehensible to me as are people who say they don’t really care about learning about evolution or the big ba…

            People discuss the “controversy”, books are written, public open discussions with scientists and religious people in universities, but to have the same discussion allthe time is stressant. And we´d need to thank scientists as Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, and others for being so patient.
            I personally followed all such inniciatives as I could, bought the books of the discussion held. but all the time ?????………… I am not patient at all.

  11. I think that faith has a survival value. In harsh times, their are many rational reasons to give up on life, and harsh times are not uncommon. If your brain then switches to “irrational, unconditional hope and feeling of being loved”, you might survive a bit better than rational people when knowledge and reason all conclude (sometimes wrongfully) to the end of all hopes.

    Faith is hope with no reason to hope. I see it as a psychological safety net when reason and intelligence fail, which is not uncommon either… We tend to see reason as leading directly to the greatest human achievements (for example, building air-planes), but we forget that 90% of the first designed airplanes never took off or crashed, albeit they were designed by intelligence, reason and knowledge (no supernatural stuff)

    To sum it up :

    • Life has been harsh most of the time throughout human history. (wars, diseases, child mortality, injustice, cruelty…)
    • Reason, while being globally the best method to make a decision, is unreliable most of the time at the individual level (bad logic, cognitive biases, incomplete knowledge, many mistakes for one great discovery…)
    • Sometimes, one simply gets lucky. The “never give up” meme, the “keep faith against reason” meme, might enhance their own replication by making those too-smart-for-their-own-good monkeys keep on making babies when really wise men would just send it all to hell with attitude. It’s just like a tenth of an eye, or a tenth of a wing, giving you an edge on differential reproduction.

    Feeling touched by Grace is definitely brain chemistry, but it sometimes might boost your immunity so strongly that you’d recover spontaneously from otherwise terminal diseases, or even “come back” from clinical death filled with awe, love and hope. Biologically speaking, it’s better than dying. Intellectually and socially speaking… I won’t tell. I still need a few friends.

    • In reply to #15 by Ornicar:

      I think that faith has a survival value.

      Instinct….drives us to survive….trust in something real happening is not the same as ‘religious faith’…..when you hope that the information you’ve been told is true…..

      If you are gullible and easily tricked…then you can possess faith !

      touched by Grace…who’s she ?

    • In reply to #15 by Ornicar:

      I think that faith has a survival value. In harsh times, their are many rational reasons to give up on life, and harsh times are not uncommon. If your brain then switches to “irrational, unconditional hope and feeling of being loved”, you might survive a bit better than rational people when knowledg…

      I’ve never read of any study that shows faith can cure somebody of another wise terminal condition and there has been research into the area of faith in medicine. You could make a case for a strong placebo effect but this would only be of benefit to non serious ailments where the severity would be highly subjective.

      Also, I can think of many scenarios off the top of my head where faith would carry a distinct survival disadvantage – say the difference between a tribe that held resources back for hard times and one that made sacrifices to the supernatural to try and ensure the hard times would not come.

      • In reply to #18 by mr_DNA:

        I’ve never read of any study that shows faith can cure somebody of another wise terminal condition and there has been research into the area of faith in medicine. You could make a case for a strong placebo effect but this would only be of benefit to non serious ailments where the severity would be highly subjective.

        Actually, that’s wrong. It’s a logical assumption to make and before I read Trivers book The Folly of Fools it’s what I thought as well but it turns out to be wrong. The placebo effect has measurable positive effects on things like the immune system, it doesn’t work only on symptoms that are highly suggestive such as pain. People will recover from infections better if treated with a placebo. One interesting fact Trivers points out is that the significance of the effect varies greatly across individuals and that the same types of individuals who are susceptible to hypnosis show the greatest benefits from placebos.

        Another point about the placebo effect is that the more invasive and costly the placebo is to use the more likely it is to work. So a big pill works better than a small pill, a pill that has some mild side effects works better than a sugar pill, and placebo surgery (and I would include things like accupuncture) work best of all.

        Trivers even describes an example of surgery that showed measurable benefits until someone got the bright idea to try placebo surgery, actually go through the surgery (put the patient under, cut them open) without doing the actual changes to the heart and it worked just as well! (I always wondered how they got people to agree to a possible placebo surgery, just shows doctors can talk some patients into anything)

        “One of the great classics is the case of angina (heart pain) treated surgically in the United States in the 1960s by a minor chest operation in which two arteries near the heart were fused to (allegedly) increase blood flow to the heart, thereby reducing pain. It did the trick—pain was reduced, patients were happy, and so were the surgeons. Then some scientists did a nice study. They subjected a series of people to the same operation, opening the chest and cutting near the arteries, but they did not join any together. Everyone was sewn up the same way and nobody knew who had received which “operation” when later effects were evaluated. The beneficial effects were identical to those of the original operation. In other words, the entire effect seems to be that of a placebo. The joining of the two arteries had nothing to do with any beneficial effect.”

        Trivers, Robert (2011-10-25). The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life (p. 72). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

        • In reply to #20 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #18 by mrDNA:_

          No. 18 mrDNA did specify a terminal illness as opposed to a serious illness, so I wonder if the distinction makes a difference?

          I’ve read up on placebo surgery as well and was astounded that they could find volunteers. There are many questions that I would like to have answered, such as the benefit of placebo surgery in the long term. In fact, all placebo remedies would be apt to wear off after a while, I would imagine.

          • In reply to #34 by Nitya:

            No. 18 mrDNA did specify a terminal illness as opposed to a serious illness, so I wonder if the distinction makes a difference?

            Just to be clear I’m not advocating that if you have cancer you should forget chemotherapy and start taking placebos. But from what I’ve read the Placebo effect has measurable impact on just about all kinds of diseases. It’s an example of one of the few things that I agree with woo peddlers like Andrew Weil or Chopra about, that a patient’s state of mind is a critical — and often overlooked by much of traditional western medicine — factor in their recovery.

            Google “placebo effect cancer study” and there are lots of articles that seem to indicate that for some patients the Placebo effect has a measurable impact on cancer treatment. Here is one, it’s behind a firewall so I only read the beginning but from a quick look I think it supports what I’m saying:

            Scientific American: Placebo Effect: A Cure in the Mind

            In fact, all placebo remedies would be apt to wear off after a while, I would imagine.

            I think you are wrong. I think there is pretty good evidence that the Placebo effect has measurable impact on the immune system. I.e., for certain kinds of patients they will fight off infections better with a Placebo and of course once you fought off the infection that is more or less a “permanent” change until the next one.

            BTW, there are a few reasons I think this is interesting. One is it shows that the woo guys may kind of have a point that when it comes to our “wellness” perception and state of mind are critical. The other is I think it’s an interesting hypothesis as to one of the evolutionary pressures that helped religion to flourish in virtually all primitive cultures. The healer was usually a priest or shaman and early medicine was mostly the placebo effect.

            I read someone, I think it was Pinker who hypothesized that the reason for this may be understandable at least in part by evolutionary pressure. For the body to heal often takes a lot of energy, e.g. when you fight an infection your body puts you in an anhedonic state where you won’t be much use for normal hunting, gathering, or procreating. The placebo effect may be a cue to the body that the time is right to shut down and start healing itself. That’s speculation as far as I know but an interesting hypothesis IMO.

          • In reply to #38 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #34 by Nitya:

            For the body to heal often takes a lot of energy,

            Nicholas Humphrey proposed that the immune system cost a lot of energy, often not available in marginal circumstances, and especially not when too ill to forage for ourselves. Going into a full blown auto immune response without the nurturing care of others could prove fatal itself. The first level of auto-immune response, therefore, may be rather cautious.

            Being “loved” and cared for may act as a reliable signal (via oxytocin? dopamine?) that calories will be made available for the full monty, auto-immune response turned up to eleven.

            I’ve often wondered about the therapeutic value of large cheques made out to cash.

          • In reply to #40 by phil rimmer:

            I’ve often wondered about the therapeutic value of large cheques made out to cash.

            If you need to test your theory, I’m a bit under the weather at the moment. I’ll let you know if it helps.

          • In reply to #41 by Ornicar:

            In reply to #40 by phil rimmer:

            I’ve often wondered about the therapeutic value of large cheques made out to cash.

            If you need to test your theory, I’m a bit under the weather at the moment. I’ll let you know if it helps.

            I’m sorry, but it seems, despite your kind offer of research help on the Health through Wealth Project, you have, in fact, been enrolled in the Pray a Day (keeps the doctor away) scheme, which has been chronically under-subscribed despite a free choice of deity.

          • In reply to #40 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #38 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #34 by Nitya:

            For the body to heal often takes a lot of energy,

            Nicholas Humphrey proposed that the immune system cost a lot of energy, often not available in marginal circumstances, and especially not when too ill to forage for ourselves.

            I meant to point out that this elegant concept from Nicholas Humphries’ that “loved” individuals experience better health, may do far more than explain the placebo effect. It may explain, at least in part, the enhanced robustness of socialised groups, families, extended families and tribes. Married couples on average have better health than singles.

            This effect may have manifestations in early life. Cuddled babies fare better and it is interesting that we are the only animal that trusts non kin to raise our children even in hunter gatherer societies. Our very approximate kin detector has had its approximation put to good use.

            I think Christianity has been really savvy (and the RCC takes the crown) in creating a loving sky family, focusing right down to nurtured infants and the supply of daily bread.

            So, lest moderators deem this OT and a risk, having RDnet appear dangerously creative, let me attempt a link back.

            I wouldn’t talk the lonely out of their faith.

      • In reply to #18 by mr_DNA:

        Well, I’ve kind of had to read several NDE testimonies and though they, of course, failed to convinced me of my soul’s immortality, I couldn’t help noticing that almost all patients reported waking up remembering a great feeling of awe, fulfillness, joy, presence, infinity, love, hope, you name it, and that seems to me very similar to what I’ve heard mystical ecstasy might feel like. So my guess would be that, in dire straits, your body might burn up some last resources trying to restart itself, and part of that seems to imply filling you up with unconditional happiness. And that doesn’t have to happen only when you are dying.

        So I’m not talking about how a local code of laws might help or handicap a tribe or another in a survival race, by specifying how much food/money/children will make you feel better if you sacrifice it to the local god of stuff you can’t control (weather, death, sun, war, fertility…) without totally destroying your civilisation. What I’m saying is that, when nine children out of ten die before the age of five, when all you’ve ever known is war and famine, when your wife, mother and daughters are regularly rapped by enemy soldiers you know you can’t fight, and everybody around you suffers horrible diseases and wounds, and medicine and science know nothing, then you have to be almost totally nuts to get up in the morning and get working.

        We so often forget that faith resists so well to reason because it is, first and foremost, a feeling. That is what superstitions and local pseudo-sciences are grafted on, but those are not the thing itself. Most (nice) religious people, when confronted with the diversity and mutual exclusivity of religious claims in the world, genuinely answer that all religious humans (Hindu, Monotheists, Buddhist…) are looking for the same thing. Probably because they know that, deep inside, they are feeling the same thing (ultimate hope, love, fulfillness…), although they reach radically divergent conclusions about the same feeling.

        I also totally agree with Red Dog’s post and that reminds me of the point developed by Daniel Dennett, that being susceptible to placebo effect was your only medical insurance when only shamanistic medicine was available.

        Now, I think the ancients have always been facing the same old question we still do. The most important question in the world. How do we know something is true ? How do you know something is true on the internet ? Try to google out “astrology” or “homeopathy” and tell me the 10 first results are not full of utter bullshit. So what you’d do is look for a reliable source, I suppose. You might go for wikipedia, for example. Imperfect, certainly, but better than woo-woo sites, isn’t it ? Well, that is what people have always done. Let’s gather the best of our knowledge in a big book, and call it The Book. Biblios. Everything that is not in The Book is wrong.

        Look at the old testament. It’s a history book (biased history, obviously, but which history isn’t ?), it’s a science book (biology, astrophysics…), it’s a code of laws, it’s a philosophy manual. Gosh, it’s an encyclopaedia ! (Problem being that some people still base their life values on the encyclopaedia of 3000 years ago.) – And of course it explains by magic what’s unknown, just like they’ll be sea monsters drawn on very useful sailing maps later. And of course it deals with and explains (away) the feeling of ‘presence’ called faith. Science is not a religion, but religions are sciences. They are failed sciences. They failed because of bad methods but not because of bad observation. The awe they described and codified was really there, in people’s minds. It was necessarily there, when a monkey woke up sapient in a pre-historical savannah, realised he was living in a Darwinian universe and didn’t kill himself immediately. As hard as it might still feel for some nowadays in the West, it is much easier to be an atheist when everything else is fine than otherwise. Thanks goodness I am not living under an excessive selective pressure.

        I think that understanding that abiding to that book or another has not much to do with what faith is, makes you understand why people don’t really need to lose ‘faith’ to endorse reason.

        • In reply to #25 by Ornicar:

          We so often forget that faith resists so well to reason because it is, first and foremost, a feeling.

          I agree absolutely. There is starting to emerge some actual scientific analysis of religion, from anthropologists (Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer) and Cognitive Scientists (Daniel Dennett, to some extent Pinker) and while they don’t all agree on everything the one thing that is overwhelmingly clear is that religion works primarily at an emotional and not a rational level.

          • In reply to #27 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #25 by Ornicar:

            We so often forget that faith resists so well to reason because it is, first and foremost, a feeling.

            I agree absolutely. There is starting to emerge some actual scientific analysis of religion, from anthropologists (Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer) and Cognitive Scientists…

            The problem is that this builds on a false dichotomy between feelings and rationality, and as a result merely trades in one mystery about humans by invoking another. Feelings are not antithetical to rationality any more than birds’ wings are: they are just as much evolved mechanisms with their own logical underpinnings as the neutral databases in our heads are. If you explain the prevalence of religion by invoking emotional underpinnings, all that does is transfer the questions aimed at religion in general over to those feelings.

            After all, emotions aren’t stupid: fear keeps you away from harm, anger enables you to target and harm cheaters and shirkers as a form of deterrence, and love bonds you to individuals relevant to genetic survival and propagation. Given that secular alternatives are possible, and in some ways more robust than such things as religious belief, ritual, faith, and so on, why would a creature susceptible to religious sentiment arise? Evolutionary pressures don’t prevent organisms from behaving in immoral ways, but they generally don’t make them irrational, at least not in a parochial environmental context.

            So-called irrational behaviours are usually either behaviours taken out of context or limitations when evolving the behaviours. For instance, Optimal Foraging Theory is an example of how evolving lineages become increasingly more rational in an environment in which the organisms can’t know in advance the best strategy to proceed, even though the improved behaviours that balance the pressures of finding food and not wasting energy might only work in that particular environment and might not even be stable. It is not because faith beats rationality sometimes, but because rationality has to be balanced with practical considerations that are themselves “rational”, in the sense that there are better and worse ways to build an organ or organism in a given ecosystem or physical location.

            My own view is that faith and religions are not survival tools for groups or individuals, but instead are the result of evolutionary cheaters taking advantage of the limitations and mechanisms in other members of their species. It is essentially a dramatic and complex example of what elsewhere in zoology is known as manipulative communication: passing on info as a way to manipulate others. It also ties in to Trivers’ notion of a cognitive arms race, which selects between deceivers and cheat-detectors.

            Given what I’ve read in Guns, Germs, and Steel, I think religion could only be possible in very large societies where social ties are slimmer, namely the large societies that arose around ten thousand to six thousand years ago. Since a family group generally has fewer conflicts than large groups, they would not need the social cohesion religion promises. A smaller band as would be typical of our distant ancestors could sustain themselves through tit-for-tat measures and informal hierarchies while knowing the ins and outs of every member of their band, since they could remember and recognize individuals, again negating a need for the social cohesion religion promises.

            Moreover, I think religions primarily benefit their founders and authorities, who take advantage of two things: the limitations of any information-gathering organism (say for technical or practical reasons to do with the body’s need to distribute limited resources, or to do with general information and computing principles), and the division of labour and expertise that sustains a band of humans who rely on the benefits of a collective. Both are most readily available in large societies where people are mostly surrounded by strangers, have to be organized by authorities, and have to stretch tit-for-tat thinking to its limit among obvious non-kin.

            The opening that results leaves it possible for a fake expert – say, a “moral” expert who knows how to handle these conflicts – to deceive others into thinking that they provide a real service, enabling them to claim more than their fair share of resources through special privileges as part of an apparently mutual arrangement, even enabling the fake expert to compel their followers to make sacrifices on their behalf. Lastly, there’s no particular reason to presuppose that counter-measures need arise among followers: if a fake expert’s costs on others are rare (even if high), negligible (even if frequent), or both, then evolutionarily the fake experts could be said to have “won”, and will persist.

            Before that, and for most of human prehistory, many of the faculties that were eventually used against followers probably had straightforward evolutionary rationales. For instance, billion of individuals in human bands must have gone through several alliances and enmities during the last few millions of years, so strong moral emotions might have been a way to parse through this minefield of trust, distrust, backstabbers, gossipers, loafers, heroes, cheaters, and other things relevant to a social animal that has to survive and reproduce with potential friends and enemies, families and strangers, and people in varying positions of power, ability, and knowledge. In short, the feelings had evolutionary bases that were rational.

          • In reply to #91 by Zeuglodon:

            The problem is that this builds on a false dichotomy between feelings and rationality,

            I don’t agree at all that it’s a false dichotomy. There is a difference between emotions and rationality. There isn’t a lot that social science research can tell us right now but that is one of the things that is clear and undeniable. People don’t always use reason when making decisions.

            The ultimatum game is an example. I give X $10 and say she must give some percentage to Y. Then Y decides whether or not to accept and if Y accepts they both keep the money, if not neither gets anything. Subjects typically reject any offer less than 20%. That’s not rational. X and Y don’t know each other and will never meet again. There is no rational justification to reject any offer. Even a penny is still one penny more than you started the experiment with. And that’s just one example there are many more.

            So I think there is clearly a difference between emotions and rationality and that religion clearly works mostly at an emotional level not a rational level. Thus, it’s a valid hypothesis to ask if people or at least some people need irrational faith in order to live productive and fulfilling lives. Atran thinks the answer to that question is Yes. I agree with Dawkins and think the answer is probably No but I don’t think we can say either way with certainty yet and I definitely think it’s a valid question to ask and to do more research on.

          • In reply to #92 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #91 by Zeuglodon:

            The problem is that this builds on a false dichotomy between feelings and rationality,

            I don’t agree at all that it’s a false dichotomy. There is a difference between emotions and rationality. There isn’t a lot that social science research can tell us right now but th…

            I don’t mean that rationality in the sense of “conscious and careful deliberation” is not markedly different from making decisions based on gut feeling. I’ve read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, who used the distinction throughout the book as a way to explain the findings in his and others’ studies and personal experiences in the field, and I agree it’s a good distinction in that context. If that’s all you meant, then there’s no need to read further, as you’ll probably already have guessed where I’m coming from.

            However, it’s not the same thing as the rationality of, say, a behavioural strategy in evolutionary biology, or the rationality behind an evolved mechanism’s specifications and function. In that context, attributing the prevalence or longevity of religion to its emotional appeal isn’t enough because it’s logically equivalent to saying music arose as a way to bond people; it just switches the question to why an organism would evolve that bonded over meaningless sound patterns.

            It’s certainly an important psychological finding to note that people in the Ultimatum game don’t act like rational “Econs”, to use Kahneman’s own words, but this still doesn’t get to the bottom of the mystery of why people are the way they are. Kahneman divides decision-making faculties in the brain (very roughly, as he explains it’s more a helpful way to conceive of the issue than a literally accurate one) into System 1 and 2, and explains early on how System 1 is good at making snap decisions in real time, but can struggle when confronted with ones that it doesn’t easily recognize. This is an interesting start, and I think it would have been improved if combined with some of the evolutionary reasoning shown by authors like Dawkins, Trivers, and Pinker. But neither invoking emotions nor labelling such behaviours as irrational – as if irrationality was absolute – will get the explanatory job done.

            For instance, the altruistic punishment in that Ultimatum game – however irrational it is in that exact context – would be rational in an environment in which any of those conditions you mentioned don’t hold true. For the most part, you do meet certain people more often, even regularly, and in many cases, it’s worth paying a premium to get the message across to others that you won’t tolerate being messed about, since the premium pays off when future would-be cheaters think twice before playing a fast one on you.

            Admittedly, there would be a lot more detail to work out, like how this anti-cheat feature is implemented in the neurocircuitry of the brain, and under what specific circumstances this is an evolutionarily stable strategy or not. Hopefully by now, you’ll see why I feel that invoking religions’ appeal to emotions or suggesting that emotions somehow aren’t rational is, at best, a half job when it comes to actually explaining it. Rationality is not an all-or-nothing property of behaviours, but is context dependent. As Pinker pointed out in How the Mind Works when discussing logical fallacies, they only seem like logical fallacies to us because we forget that logical fallacies rest on conditionals that aren’t always true. Or, in his own words:

            “… in any world but a casino, the gambler’s fallacy is rarely a fallacy. Indeed, calling our intuitive predictions fallacious because they fail on gambling devices is backwards. A gambling device is, by definition, a machine designed to defeat our intuitive predictions. It is like calling our hands badly designed because they make it hard to get out of handcuffs…”

            He develops the theme I’m trying to get at on pages 343 to 351, but the gist of it is that the supposed irrational responses of human subjects in such research isn’t so irrational outside the lab, and may have legitimate general reasoning behind it.

            This is all the more relevant when it comes to explaining religion, which is a magnet for half-baked evolutionary psychology and group selectionism, neither of which actually provide a strong explanation for, say, people’s interest in religion or its endurance over time. Since religions are generally restricted to large-scale societies and are usually absent from bands and tribes (though interestingly enough, they do have superstitions of their own), and since most of its functions are secular concerns at bottom, I suspect it’s a (prehistorically recent) cultural offshoot of a form of deception that is used to take advantage of features of human psychology that are themselves the products of evolutionary pressures, such as division of labour and within-species arms races. My explanation in my previous comment certainly isn’t the only viable candidate, but it’s the sort of thing I’d expect to see put forward.

            So I think there is clearly a difference between emotions and rationality and that religion clearly works mostly at an emotional level not a rational level. Thus, it’s a valid hypothesis to ask if people or at least some people need irrational faith in order to live productive and fulfilling lives.

            I doubt it, though I admit I could yet be persuaded. At present, though, I regard it as belonging to the category of questions that asks whether we need human foibles; it’s less that we need them and more that currently, we are saddled with them and probably have few or no practical means of getting around them. Also, my answer would be “no”.

  12. We all live with assumptions in our lives, for that matter, no one really recognises where these assumptions even begin. To remove religion from the life of a previous fervent believer will almost certainly launch any thoughtful individual into an existentialist crisis, an experience which isn’t very pleasant after all. Whilst it may be incorrect to persist in belief of a higher beings, but perhaps it should be better timed or done wisely.

  13. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this subject in the years since I officially came out as an atheist to my friends and family. At first, my attitude was that it didn’t matter what other people believed as long as they didn’t force their beliefs on me. Over time, this evolved into an attitude of it doesn’t matter what other people believe as long it makes them happy. And then, as I started to learn about all the hideous abuses that have been inflicted on humanity in the name of religion, my attitude eventually crystallized into one of it doesn’t matter what other people believe as long as it makes them happy and it doesn’t harm anybody (including themselves).

    The hard part, of course, is deciding what constitutes “harm.” I know that some atheists strongly believe that any false belief whatsoever causes intellectual harm and that it is better to only believe in things that are demonstrably and/or logically true. And I know that what starts out as a benign belief in the supernatural can often lead to more pernicious beliefs and actions down the road. But I personally think that potential harm in merely believing in a supreme being and an afterlife is not great enough to require me to try and strip those beliefs from those I meet. Sure, there are fundamentalists who want to promote the hatred found in scripture, interfere with the teachings of modern science because they contradict the ramblings of ignorant desert nomads, require everybody to convert to their religion or die, etc. And I have no problem with trying to talk those people out of their faith. But I also have numerous friends who claim to believe in a personal God and take comfort in the thought that (a) there is a reason for everything that happens and (b) they will be reunited with loved ones after death, while at the same time having no interest in foisting their beliefs off on anybody else (most of these friends are childless, btw). These friends don’t use their religious beliefs as an excuse to deprive other people of their rights or act badly toward anybody. It’s just what they happen to believe and it makes them happy. As such, I really have no desire whatsoever to convince them of the error of their ways.

  14. Everyone should be free to believe what they want in a free society. In this modern age of information there can be no excuse for not having access to the facts (except in a few places like North Korea).
    The fact that we are apes, and probably responsible for the extinction of the other (more peaceful?) intelligent apes that co-evolved with us, is quite a stark and disturbing fact. Not everyone is mentally strong enough to deal with this insight (especially children). That is where religion has a role in modern society and I wouldn’t deny anyone their comfortable illusion, if that is what they want from life.

    • In reply to #21 by MitochondrialAdam:

      The fact that we are apes, and probably responsible for the extinction of the other (more peaceful?) intelligent apes that co-evolved with us, is quite a stark and disturbing fact.

      Is it really all that disturbing? I mean could we seriously imagine that it might have been different? My guess is if we ever find intelligent life elsewhere we will find the same thing, that part of the process of gaining intelligence is that a species begins to dominate all the other species on the planet.

      Not everyone is mentally strong enough to deal with this insight (especially children). That is where religion has a role in modern society and I wouldn’t deny anyone their comfortable illusion, if that is what they want from life.

      I haven’t had a lot of experience with children but from the experience I’ve had I think people often underestimate them. A radio personality I like tells a story about parents who thought long and hard about how to explain to their children that one of their friends was gay and was married to another man. They were concerned that the children would find it so hard to deal with, be distressed, etc. They told their kids and the response was “two dads? cool… can we go back to watching TV now?” I think we might see the same with religion, that most children can do without it and can even understand why some people need made up stories a lot easier than we might think.

  15. Oh how I wish some kind person had sat down with me ears before I finall realised it was all wrong at the age of 47.

    When I look at the wasted time, money, opportunities I absolutely wince!

    To all those hesitating out there get on with it – the gratitude you will earn will make it worthwhile!

  16. If they state that they care whether their beliefs are true then touché! If they are nice, harmless people who just want to believe because it makes them feel good, then diplomacy may be more the order of the day.

  17. I think it’s a difficult one, and context/timing is everything. A very close friend lost her father very suddenly, and in the first shock of grief one of the many things she said was, “I know in my heart I will see him again.” I would have felt like one hell of a cow for saying, “well, actually there’s no evidence to support that view.” So I said nothing. This friend knows that I am an atheist, and ramming my standpoint down her throat at that point would have felt like the equivalent of a religious person telling me “they’re in a better place” when I lost a friend in his 30s – something which has happened to me.

  18. MitochondrialAdam #21

    That is where religion has a role in modern society and I wouldn’t deny anyone their comfortable illusion, if that is what they want from life.

    Yes I too would leave believers alone, – if they left us alone. But they don’t. When they start flying planes into buildings, letting off bombs in crowded cities, stopping scientific research,filling kids with nonsense about reality, generally telling the poor to put up with their lot, and opposing sexual choices and contraception, then they have to be countered.

    I was about 5 when I was talked out of my “faith”. I came home from primary school, full of Jesus and angels. My mother made some remark to the effect that: ” Oh we don’t believe in all that nonsense. ” That was enough. No existential crisis, just the time to go and play cowboys and Indians !

  19. Good article, but you should really read the comments here; there are several which give valid reasons for exceptions. I should also ask you to note that some form of religion has been developed by almost every society and ethnic group, and evidence of this can be found in ancient peoples, even Neanderthals. Thus I can only conclude that, true or not, religious belief has some survival benefit. It must be an evolutionary advantage. Is is still so? I don’t know, but it might be. I have unwittingly caused possible harm to a 13-yr-old, a very bright one, through disabusing her of religious dogma. She is a friend of my daughter, and was sending some of those ridiculous chain e-mails meant to ‘prove’ the existence of god, like the Einstein and the professor scam. Thus I challenged her. This girl is a member of a large family of evangelical Christians who are creationists. She then began to ask questions. I sought the permission of her mother to continue the correspondence, which was freely given, but probably now regretted, because I introduced the girl to ‘The God Delusion’ and subsequently ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ to explain the science behind evolution. The harm is that she is now at odds with her family, who are good people, and thinks they have lied to her, which of course, they have. I am not sure I have done a good thing here. yes, she is now searching for truth, but a young girl who might be rejecting family support and advice can easily go adrift and get into trouble. Hmmm!

    • In reply to #43 by Arni:

      I am not sure I have done a good thing here. yes, she is now searching for truth, but a young girl who might be rejecting family support and advice can easily go adrift and get into trouble.

      But you are not counseling her to reject her family. Indeed you have called her family good. I trust you haven’t called them liars, so why should she think this? I trust you have called them good (well intentioned), clearly trying to do their best for her.

      You can explain how good people can come to be mistaken about this or that.

      The approach I take with the young is to always lead with making better moral choices about actions, rather than making more truthful choices about what to believe. This latter comes about automatically in my view. Only a true and complete view of harms, for instance, can can best service moral choices.

      Parents are “good” when they are concerned that their children are integrated happily into society to the benefit of both. This hinges on being moral. Sometimes a parent’s view of society is parochial and rather static but always their intent is to create the best moral being they can. If their daughter’s concerns are first and foremost about being the best moral individual she can be, then for any divergence of views that she may choose to make apparent, they can still take pride in their daughter for being daily exercised about “doing better”.

      If this girl was susceptible to your arguments she was susceptible to those same arguments from anywhere at anytime. They might have been couched in less personally understanding ways, simply calling her parents liars, for instance, thereby wrongly imputing malice.

      In telling the truth you have restored some of the choices of a normal child. Growing up was never easy.

  20. In reply to comment #22 – The bit I find disturbing is the fact that we wiped them out completely. The most recent genocide occurring when homo sapien chased homo neanderthalensis out of Africa and hunted him across Europe, the last of his kind being reduced to hiding in caves on Gibraltar, only ~80,000 years ago. It’s no wonder we can’t stop fighting

    • In reply to #45 by MitochondrialAdam:

      hunted him across Europe, the last of his kind being reduced to hiding in caves on Gibraltar, only ~80,000 years ago.

      Your evidence for Neanderthals being hunted down?

    • In reply to #45 by MitochondrialAdam:

      In reply to comment #22 – The bit I find disturbing is the fact that we wiped them out completely.

      I don’t really know much about the Neanderthals. Is it really known for sure that humans actively wiped them out or is that one possible theory? I’m not challenging what you say, from what little I know I thought it was still an open question what exactly caused Neanderthals to die out but I really don’t know and would be interested to know more what people who know about the topic think.

      The most recent genocide occurring when homo sapien chased homo neanderthalensis out of Africa and hunted him across Europe, the last of his kind being reduced to hiding in caves on Gibraltar, only ~80,000 years ago. It’s no wonder we can’t stop fighting

      I think it’s a reasonable question would we really expect that two species descended from a common primate ancestor wouldn’t compete with each other and that one of them would dominate and end up playing a major role in the extinction of the other? Maybe I’m being too nice to humans but my guess is that if dolphins had figured out language before primates, we would all be bemoaning how the poor sharks were hunted to extinction so many years ago.

      To me the important thing isn’t how driven by sexism, patriarchy, war, and domination our ancestors were. I take that as a given. Most species are because they are driven by basic drives to survive and maximally reproduce. To me the important thing is figuring out how we as enlightened humans can find better ways to rise above all those tendencies now.

    • In reply to #45 by MitochondrialAdam:

      In reply to comment #22 – The bit I find disturbing is the fact that we wiped them out completely. The most recent genocide occurring when homo sapien chased homo neanderthalensis out of Africa and hunted him across Europe, the last of his kind being reduced to hiding in caves on Gibraltar, only ~80…

      Anybody of European descent typically has about 5% Neanderthal DNA so there was a bit more to it than just hunting and murder.

    • In reply to #45 by MitochondrialAdam:

      In reply to comment #22 – The bit I find disturbing is the fact that we wiped them out completely. The most recent genocide occurring when homo sapien chased homo neanderthalensis out of Africa and hunted him across Europe, the last of his kind being reduced to hiding in caves on Gibraltar, only ~80…

      Most recent genocide was the extermination of the Aborigines of Tasmaina (small island state of Australia) during the 1800s.
      Not just usual abuse but complete extermination. Hunted and murdered to extinction.

      • In reply to #61 by Catfish:

        In reply to #45 by MitochondrialAdam:

        Well, perhaps the most recent complete genocide. The Aremedian genocide was in 1915, and of course there was Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s, which was inspired by the former because it had been ignored. Hitler thought he could do similarly, and under slightly different circumstances he may have been right.

  21. NOT trying to talk somebody out of his or her faith is a clear sign of condescension. One should always assume that another person is just as sane as oneself. In that case, isn’t it the greatest gift we have to offer: freedom of thought?

  22. Without religion and their abundant believers to comfort us, sometimes the starkness of reality and truth can be difficult to bear. It becomes serious when people with influence over others begin to make detrimental decisions. I can think of one case involving 9 victims whose lives were supposed to be under the care of a doctor. The doctor uses faith to avoid prosecution and even receives support from a community, which is probably largely religious and sympathetic to the doctor’s religious facade. This shows the extent of delusion on a societal scale, where reality is ignored, poor decisions made and, provided complainants are financially compensated, then we can all pretend it was act of God.

  23. I think at this point it’s important to first redirect the conversation with “We aren’t talking about whether it’s comforting, we’re talking about whether it’s true or not. Do you think it’s true?” Don’t let the entire conversation be a waste of time for both of you by changing the subject

    The problem here is that you are overlooking that they feel the comfort is part of the Truth.

    Here’s my view in a nutshell. If someone is walking in the woods following a path it is unlikely that they will take an unclear dimly lit path unless they know where it will lead. Atheism is just that. It’s unclear and it seemingly has no benefit for them. The path they are on has lots of friends and family, rest stops, nice views, a barbeque pit and picnic table. The other path has lots of mud, protruding roots, mosquitoes, crossing streams, steep inclines…They are not sure where it will all lead and the journey is difficult. The young will take the challenge just because it’s the alternative route, but the majority want a tram ride.

    I personally was never an Evangelical and did not try to convert people. Both religions I was in, Catholicism and Unity, did not promote any efforts to convert others. Unity strictly taught against doing so. Most of us here agree that we dislike people knocking on our door, so why do we think it’s OK for us to try to talk people out of their faith? I guess it depends if someone approached you first.

  24. I’ve always struggled with my understanding of a higher power until I heard Eckhart Tolle say “we are a species that speaks using 25 consonantd and five vowels. And we think we can understand the universe? ” then he cuckled. I roared with laughter at that moment and gave up the fight. Life is good. That’s all. Who knows a lot about consciousness?

    • In reply to #53 by beths:

      I’ve always struggled with my understanding of a higher power until I heard Eckhart Tolle say “we are a species that speaks using 25 consonantd and five vowels. And we think we can understand the universe? ” then he cuckled. I roared with laughter at that moment and gave up the fight. Life is good. That’s all.
      ** Who knows a lot about consciousness?**

      Nobody who has not progressed to: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9, or mathematical and scientific laws and formulae!

    • In reply to #53 by beths:

      I’ve always struggled with my understanding of a higher power until I heard Eckhart Tolle say “we are a species that speaks using 25 consonantd and five vowels. And we think we can understand the universe? ” then he cuckled. I roared with laughter at that moment and gave up the fight.

      I don’t get it. What does the fact that the basic building blocks of language are a relatively small finite set of sounds have to do with anything? The same is true for music, there aren’t that many notes really. What is amazing about both are the infinite and btw I mean infinite in the precise mathematical sense not as in very large, number of possible combinations that can arise from a small set of primitives. To me — and to anyone who studies language that I’ve ever talked to — that fact is actually pretty amazing and awe inspiring not something that would encourage a rational person to “give up the fight” whatever that means.

  25. If you can talk someone out of his/her faith, then it wasn’t much of a faith to start with.

    I don’t think it’s important to talk people out of their faith but it is important to ensure they know there is an alternative to religious faiths and then let them make up their own minds.

    I was born into a Catholic family in a Christian society. My parents were very religious, I went to a Catholic school, my friends were in a similar position and we were surrounded by impressive churches, cathedrals with all their pomp and circumstance. To a large extent we were immersed in Christianity.

    However, I was given a good education and I was taught science. My Father knew about evolution and the scientific theories of the origin of the universe but his faith in his god was unshakable. When I was about 13 or 14 I was uneasy about the religious teachings I had received and by the time I left school I had already decided it was all bollocks. Nobody had to talk me out of my faith, I was just lucky enough to be given enough information about science and all the other religious beliefs to make an informed decision.

    I don’t consider myself any smarter than my parents yet I was able to avoid the pit of superstition that they seemed to have fallen into.

    There’s a school of thought that suggests it’s good to let children believe in the magic of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy but at the same time we tell our children that there are no monsters under the bed and that they shouldn’t be afraid of the dark.

    The idea of Father Christmas may seem a positive notion to give a child, but it opens the door to monster under the bed.

    • In reply to #60 by rzzz:

      “Is it Wrong to Talk People Out of Their Faith?” – dunno, but it sure is tedious to try.

      That depends who you’re talking to and how you talk to them. It’s like being bored: as much to do with the person experiencing boredom as the situation.

      • In reply to #98 by PERSON:

        In reply to #60 by rzzz:

        “Is it Wrong to Talk People Out of Their Faith?” – dunno, but it sure is tedious to try.

        That depends who you’re talking to and how you talk to them. It’s like being bored: as much to do with the person experiencing boredom as the situation.

        Agree absolutely. It doesn’t happen often but I’ve had some very interesting discussions with religious people about faith and God.

  26. Most of the comments have been on the side of the believer…the innocent ones that is….but if the person you were confronted with was someone who had the power to make your life hell….then yeah – you dam well should talk them out of having faith…and not only that but you should tell them the error of their beliefs and how much worse them having their belief has negatively impacted on others…..

  27. The Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument for the Non-Existence of God — Richard Dawkins

    “There is an inherent improbability in living things, in the complexity of living things.  The statistical improbability of living things is something after all that creationists from (William) Paley down have played upon; and I want to say exactly the same thing of a Designer, a Designer of any kind.  Because it seems to me that any Entity, any Being capable of designing a universe, or an eye, or a knee, would have to be the kind of Entity, I don’t know the detail of course, but would have to be the kind of Entity which would be statistically improbable in the same kind of way as the eye is.”-Richard Dawkins
    

    Articulation of the Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument for the Non-Existence of God

    There is an enormous improbability of the existence of the universe in the complex and unified way that it currently exists.  Theists contend that the enormous improbability of the universe serves to increase the probability of God existing.  However, the probability of God existing would have to be perfectly equal to the probability of the universe existing.  (E.g. if the existence of the universe was enormously improbable, then the existence of a God who created the universe would be equally improbable.)  Since the existence of the universe is enormously improbable, then the existence of God would necessarily be equally enormously improbable, therefore God almost certainly doesn’t exist.
    

    Response to the Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument for the Non-Existence of God

    In order to not be impartial, I will respond to this argument in line with his thinking.  There is now a fixed presupposition that the probability of the existence of God is equal to the probability of the existence of the universe; this is doubtless his force of argument here.  Now we must simply understand what the probability of the existence of the universe really is, and then the probability of the existence of God would necessarily be equal to the probability of the universe existing.  Consider this fairly lengthy illustration – Let’s say that there were two soccer teams that were going to play against each other in their championship game – we’ll call them the blue team and the red team – and their game is three days from now.  Now, before the game is played, each team has a statistical probability of winning or losing that game.  (The factors that would affect the statistical probability [of winning or losing] could be their winning percentage, the overall health [or lack of health] in their players, etc.  However it doesn’t affect the overall point of the illustration.)  Let’s just say that the probability of the blue team winning is 50%, and the probability of the red team winning is 50%, so before the game these statistical probabilities are universally agreed upon (again, it’s virtually impossible to have any infallible probabilities, because it’s grounded in subjective reasoning rather than objective truth, but it still doesn’t even remotely affect the point of the illustration, so let’s embrace the aforesaid statistical probabilities for the sake of the illustration).  Now the championship game came and went, and the blue team beat the red team by a score of 4-2.  Before the game started, the probability of the blue team winning the championship game was 50%, what would their chances be of winning (the exact same game that they had just previously won) against the red team now?  Well, since they already won, the probability of their winning is no longer 50%, but 100%.  In fact, since they already won, it’s no longer a probability that they will win, it’s a definitude that they already have won.  If the universe currently didn’t exist, then there would certainly be an enormous improbability of the universe ever existing in the way that it currently exists; but since the universe already exists, it’s no longer a matter of probability.  It’s no longer a case of statistical probability of the universe existing, because the universe already exists.  Therefore there simply is no inherent improbability of the existence of the universe, because the universe already exists.  In other words, the existence of the universe is an empirically-drenched undeniable principle of reality.  Now, in order to not be impartial, (i.e. in order to be fair to Dawkins’ force of argument), the probability of God existing must be perfectly equal with the probability of the universe existing, and we have maintained that the existence of the universe is an empirically-drenched undeniable principle of reality; therefore, according to Dawkins’ best argument for the non-existence of God, the existence of God is an empirically-drenched undeniable principle of reality.  At the very least this means that Dawkins has to completely forsake his supposed best argument for the non-existence of God, because it causes him to unwittingly infallibly prove the existence of God!
    
  28. I think you should be careful about who you try to convert. Despite what you might think, believers are not all the same. Trying to convince an intelligent and civilised Christian strikes me as being fine. He is not likely to become less civilised for jettisoning his religious beliefs. However, if a stupid believer has only been kept on the straight and narrow by his foolish religious beliefs, I think it is a mistake to want to undermine these beliefs, no matter how superior this makes you feel. The people who believe morality requires a God are not few in number, and simply knowing they are mistaken won’t be much consolation to you if they turn violent after throwing off the shackles of religious morality. If you are going to talk someone out of their religion you should be sure that you can also convince them that morality can exist without a god.

    You may have noticed that not all non-believers are what I would call atheists. Atheists for me are people who reached their atheism after having thought it through. There are however plenty of people who don’t believe in God but don’t in any way resemble either Sam Harris or A.C. Grayling. These people might be better off with a deluded belief in a phoney morality.

    So before trying to disabuse someone of their irrational beliefs I think you should at least make the effort of imagining whether this person is likely to turn into a godless nihilist or a truth-seeking atheist.

    • In reply to #65 by keith:

      I think you should be careful about who you try to convert. Despite what you might think, believers are not all the same. Trying to convince an intelligent and civilised Christian strikes me as being fine. He is not likely to become less civilised for jettisoning his religious beliefs. However, if a…

      So if I’m understanding you, you are claiming that some people will be significantly more immoral — possibly even criminal — if we “talk them out of their faith” and it’s better to just leave them deluded.

      I don’t agree at all. There is a fair amount of empirical data on crime and belief systems and I think it doesn’t support what you are saying. People who commit crimes for the most part don’t think rationally. They can use reason, and can be very smart about, HOW they commit their crimes but when it comes to WHY they are full of self deception and rationalization.

      For example, Trivers points out in The Folly of Fools that many violent criminals say they “would do it all again” and really seem to mean it. This is an example of a rationalization of the same type that causes people to not want to sell a stock that is decreasing in value. We invest in something it was clearly a bad decision yet rather than recognize the bad decision (which would cause internal stress we would have to admit our own failing) we rationalize that it WAS a good decision and keep going with it. As the saying goes we “throw good money after bad”.

      In the same sense all the data I’ve seen shows that there is very little correlation between being religious and being a good person. Religion just gives people one more tool for self deception to rationalize their own behavior which often obviously conflicts with the dogma of their religion. Just one example: all the “pro life” people who love the death penalty.

      IMO talking to people about reason and critical thinking will be more likely to also make them be more moral because it will help to start cutting through layers of self deception and in general make them more rational about their personal choices. I agree that on the surface it seems to make intuitive sense that worrying about Hell will make people more moral but IMO this is one of those cases where the actual data we have shows that our intuitions are wrong.

      • Red Dog,

        In reply to #65 by keith:

        I think you should be careful about who you try to convert. Despite what you might think, believers are not all the same. Trying to convince an intelligent and civilised Christian strikes me as being fine. He is not likely to become less civilised for jettisoning his religious beliefs. However, if a…

        So if I’m understanding you, you are claiming that some people will be significantly more immoral — possibly even criminal — if we “talk them out of their faith” and it’s better to just leave them deluded.

        Yep, that would be a fair summary.

        I don’t agree at all. There is a fair amount of empirical data on crime and belief systems and I think it doesn’t support what you are saying. People who commit crimes for the most part don’t think rationally. They can use reason, and can be very smart about, HOW they commit their crimes but when it comes to WHY they are full of self deception and rationalization.

        I agree.

        For example, Trivers points out in The Folly of Fools that many violent criminals say they “would do it all again” and really seem to mean it. This is an example of a rationalization of the same type that causes people to not want to sell a stock that is decreasing in value. We invest in something it was clearly a bad decision yet rather than recognize the bad decision (which would cause internal stress we would have to admit our own failing) we rationalize that it WAS a good decision and keep going with it. As the saying goes we “throw good money after bad”.

        I agree.

        In the same sense all the data I’ve seen shows that there is very little correlation between being religious and being a good person. Religion just gives people one more tool for self deception to rationalize their own behavior which often obviously conflicts with the dogma of their religion. Just one example: all the “pro life” people who love the death penalty.

        I disagree. Being anti-abortion and pro death penalty are in no way contradictory. Some people care about foetuses but not about murdering psychopaths. I think I would count myself as one of those.

        I don’t see how being a mainstream Christian gives a person an extra tool for rationalising his bad behaviour though I can see how Islam and Fundamental Christianity might. This is why I was saying you have to look at what kind of person the believer is. I’m all for converting religious maniacs.

        Your argument seems to be that people will act in a certain way and then search among their beliefs to rationalise what they have just done. If that is indeed the case then converting religious people to atheism won’t make them act any different. You seem to disagree with Sam Harris when he claims that people tend to act according to their beliefs. I am with Sam on this one.

        IMO talking to people about reason and critical thinking will be more likely to also make them be more moral because it will help to start cutting through layers of self deception and in general make them more rational about their personal choices. I agree that on the surface it seems to make intuitive sense that worrying about Hell will make people more moral but IMO this is one of those cases where the actual data we have shows that our intuitions are wrong.

        This seems to contradict your earlier idea that all belief merely acts as a rationalisation for something we would have done anyway.

        • In reply to #67 by keith:

          I disagree. Being anti-abortion and pro death penalty are in no way contradictory.

          Being anti-abortion and pro death penalty aren’t contradictory I agree. But that isn’t what I was talking about. If you listen to the rhetoric of most anti-abortion people they don’t say “I don’t enjoy sex and I want harlots who do enjoy sex to suffer the consequences” (that is my rather cynical assessment of the actual reasoning of many anti-abortion people that is masked by self deception). They say they believe in “the sanctity of life” and that “each life is a gift from God” and “only God can take a life”, etc. Saying you believe in the sanctity of life and then that you think the state should go around killing criminals is IMO clearly contradictory.

          This seems to contradict your earlier idea that all belief merely acts as a rationalisation for something we would have done anyway.

          I don’t think I said that. If I gave that impression I was expressing myself poorly. What I meant to say is that a lot of our actions are inconsistent with our beliefs and that we practice self deception and rationalization to minimize the cognitive dissonance between the two. But I definitely don’t think that all of us delude ourselves all the time. One reason I see a therapist is that it helps me recognize when I’m practicing self deception. I wouldn’t waste the time if I thought we were all doomed to always deceive ourselves.

          And I’m not claiming that rejecting religion will suddenly make someone a better person. All these things are intensely complex with all sorts of other variables and specific circumstances with the individual. What I’m saying is that in general less self deception means more rational behavior (which will also tend to be more moral) and that in general less religion means less self deception.

  29. Red Dog,

    If you listen to the rhetoric of most anti-abortion people they don’t say “I don’t enjoy sex and I want harlots who do enjoy sex to suffer the consequences” (that is my rather cynical assessment of the actual reasoning of many anti-abortion people that is masked by self deception).

    Though I’m not religious myself, I don’t doubt that most people’s religiosity is based on something more substantial than simple anger at people doing stuff that deep down they themselves would like to do, if only they could. I’m not sure that you can mind-read people in this way. I think there is a danger of what Freud called ‘projecting’ your own proclivities onto others.

    They say they believe in “the sanctity of life” and that “each life is a gift from God” and “only God can take a life”, etc. Saying you believe in the sanctity of life and then that you think the state should go around killing criminals is IMO clearly contradictory.

    I would agree that if you think that all life is sacrosanct then supporting the death penalty is inconsistent. I personally don’t think that all life is sacrosanct. I am quite happy to see scum executed, regardless of why it became scum. The only thing you need to be sure of is that you get the right person.

    This seems to contradict your earlier idea that all belief merely acts as a rationalisation for something we would have done anyway.

    I definitely don’t think that all of us delude ourselves all the time. One reason I see a therapist is that it helps me recognize when I’m practicing self deception. I wouldn’t waste the time if I thought we were all doomed to always deceive ourselves.

    I didn’t suggest that you did believe that all of us delude ourselves all the time. My argument was a different one, namely that you seemed to be saying that religious beliefs act as rationalisations for actions people would have performed anyway, which to me suggests that beliefs are like the whistle of the steam train: the whistle sounds when the train moves but it isn’t the cause of the train’s movement. On the other hand you think it is worth changing people’s beliefs because being less self-deceived will make them act more rationally. In this case the whistle does possess the power to move the train forward.

    Apart from that, though you see religious people as self-deceiving, I see them them merely as deceived, in the same way that people who thought the earth was flat were deceived rather than self-deceiving.

    What I’m saying is that in general less self deception means more rational behavior (which will also tend to be more moral)…

    I have never understood the argument that it is rational to be moral. Surely if I can steal your wallet without being caught this would be the rational way for me to behave, though it wouldn’t be moral. I really don’t think you can design a moral society on the basis of rationality. You have to start with certain basic assumptions about right and wrong which seem to be built into us. Rationality only comes into the picture when all the heavy lifting has already been done. Is a lion being irrational when it kills a zebra? If not, then why am I being irrational if I kill a rabbit for meat, or kill a stranger for money? What could be more rational?

    • In reply to #69 by keith:

      have never understood the argument that it is rational to be moral.

      I think one reason we aren’t communicating is you are trying to look at these questions in absolute terms and absolute terms seldom work when discussing human behavior. So I agree it is wrong to say “it is rational to be moral” in the sense that rationality always and everywhere will guarantee moral behavior. What I DO think is that rationality tends to make people be moral. If you read Pinker’s book The Better Angels that is one of the clear messages. That both from the standpoint of individual behavior and groups and nations the immoral behavior: war, torture, theft is usually (not always) highly correlated with irrational justifications. Men kill and beat their wives because they have irrational beliefs about manhood. Nations go to war because they have irrational beliefs about “manifest destiny” or that some parcel of land has been granted to a group of people by God or because they want to bring about a worker’s paradise by destroying Capitalist oppression.

      Of course there are people who can be rational in some crimes but the vast majority, especially of violent crimes. are IMO almost always correlated with irrational self deception and rationalization. It’s one of the reasons I like Pinker’s Better Angels book is that he lays out such a clear argument that rationality and morality tend to go together.

      • Red Dog,

        Men kill and beat their wives because they have irrational beliefs about manhood. Nations go to war because they have irrational beliefs about “manifest destiny”…

        I suspect that men beat their wives because they are bullies and have poor impulse control. What they believe about their manhood is probably of secondary importance. As to Manifest Destiny, I’m rather pleased that early Americans had a belief in their own manifest destiny and caused history to go the way it did. Nothing irrational in that, as far as I can see, unless you consider winning rather than losing to be irrational. Neither can I see anything irrational about, say, Putin’s takeover of the Crimea. With a weak American president in power who is simply too cool to resort to actual confrontation, now was precisely the right time to make a land grab. This was rationality exemplified.

        It’s one of the reasons I like Pinker’s Better Angels book is that he lays out such a clear argument that rationality and morality tend to go together.

        I am part way through ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ and although Pinker has demonstrated a historical trend away from violence, in part related to the role of the Leviathan state, he hasn’t yet made the connection between rationality and morality. I’ll await the moment he does.

        • In reply to #71 by keith:

          As to Manifest Destiny, I’m rather pleased that early Americans had a belief in their own manifest destiny and caused history to go the way it did. Nothing irrational in that, as far as I can see, unless you consider winning rather than losing to be irrational.

          Tell it to the Native Americans. The way the US treated them was abysmal and no honest person who doesn’t have what I would consider a warped sense of morals could look at the history and say otherwise.

          And again you are stuck in absolutes. I agree completely there was a lot about manifest destiny that was rational and even moral. It made sense for one nation to take over that land mass and in a lot of ways as immoral many of the things the US did through history were; we were still all things considered, and a lot of people on the left would disagree but I think I could make a strong case for this, an overall force for good (democracy, science, equality, justice) through much of history.

          That doesn’t mean Manifest Destiny wasn’t essentially an irrational concept. It wasn’t based on rational arguments about democracy or federalism. It was the idea that the US was a special nation chosen by God. God was almost always mentioned when talking about Manifest Destiny. And it allowed the US to rationalize things such as the genocide of native americans that clearly went against the ideals we said we believed in since Jefferson and Paine.

          • Red Dog,

            In reply to #71 by keith:

            As to Manifest Destiny, I’m rather pleased that early Americans had a belief in their own manifest destiny and caused history to go the way it did. Nothing irrational in that, as far as I can see, unless you consider winning rather than losing to be irrational.

            Tell it to the Native Americans. The way the US treated them was abysmal and no honest person who doesn’t have what I would consider a warped sense of morals could look at the history and say otherwise.

            I was really arguing that it was rational for white Europeans to invade a vast continent inhabited by some native Americans. I believe that even Native Americans would find it rational, even if they didn’t like it. And really it’s only immoral from our perspective. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries they didn’t have our sensibilities about other races and ethnies. Do you think the Native Americans found our behaviour immoral? I don’t think so. I think they would have laughed at anyone who suggested such a thing. They lived by the same kind of credo as we did.

            My main point is this. You almost seem to be suggesting that something can’t be rational if it isn’t moral. I disagree. Rationality is precisely why people commit immoral acts i.e. because it is often rational to do so.

            That doesn’t mean Manifest Destiny wasn’t essentially an irrational concept. It wasn’t based on rational arguments about democracy or federalism.

            So only arguments based on democracy and federalism are rational, even in the 19th century? I think you have been too persuaded by current progressive thinking, even if you aren’t a Progressive yourself. Apart from that, I think you can believe in democracy and still see Injuns as a load of savages that wouldn’t understand democracy and should therefore be brushed aside.

            It seems to me that you main gripe is not with irrationality but with the internal inconsistency of a point of view. I tend to agree with you that internal inconsistency is a bad thing but I think the pioneers of the American state would disagree with that their views were inconsistent. Back before we had the idea of an ever increasing circle of sympathy with our fellow men, women, animals etc. there was no contradiction between feeling your nation had a manifest destiny, whether god given or not, and killing Indians. I’m still not sure even I can see any internal inconsistency in that, even from my standpoint here in the 21st century.

            It was the idea that the US was a special nation chosen by God. God was almost always mentioned when talking about Manifest Destiny. And it allowed the US to rationalize things such as the genocide of native americans that clearly went against the ideals we said we believed in since Jefferson and Paine.

            Why is it called ‘genocide’ when 19th century whites killed Native Americans but tribal fighting when one Indian tribe wiped out another? Perhaps you would be interested in this article written by a member of the Comanche Tribe:

            http://www.vdare.com/articles/an-american-indian-view-of-immigration

  30. Where do you get all these notions of good and bad from? Please rid me of the religious propaganda and stop talking their language. There is no “good” or “bad”. Do you cry when a specie become extinct because of evolution? And if you do Why?
    Please stop it!
    Live and live the life – not that we are “meant” to – because there is no such thing…
    Just live… and do not care…
    The moment you start caring you are really just subscribing to religious nonsense and “feelings”.
    And then stop writing articles about the good or bad nature of converting religious people – as that is insane – why would the true randomness of the universe care?
    If you feel the one or the other does not make it TRUE!

  31. I try not to get into it with people unless they bring it up by saying something like, “What a beautiful animal! it shows the awesomeness of god for making this lovely animal..” or Jesus loves you and many more distressful phrases that make me get on the soapbox.

    I think it is our duty as atheists to at the very least share our views and show the ridiculous nature of their views if they insist on forcing these on us and claiming they are true.

    There is no way I will ever understand how anyone can believe in the fairy and never seen it. By sharing real scientific knowledge with these people , it is not forcing a belief of on anyone. If they won’t accept hard evidence for proof then they have a mental defect of some kind.

    • In reply to #77 by GFZ:

      There is no way I will ever understand how anyone can believe in the fairy and never seen it. By sharing real scientific knowledge with these people , it is not forcing a belief of on anyone. If they won’t accept hard evidence for proof then they have a mental defect of some kind.

      The defect will swirl out of control and pop eventually, like a bad zit. There may be a pretty big lie or at least tucked-away truth about a person’s life that would make them more amenable to falling into the folds of religion. I do want to share that I’ve achieved the best result in getting a Christian close to coming out and admitting it’s a lie by dropping hints about the nature of her religion. She may laugh and fabricate some stories here and there, but symbols and keywords stick with these folks.

      I think we have to approach the dangerous animal of religion in a roundabout manner; we could probably agree it’s cornered by now. So extract from a religious friend what they like about religion (a thing for my mother is major religious figures – some of which have goatees) and very subtly hint how it’s related to something satanic (goats). Planting a seed like this can clear some of that awful growth and allow them to keep their ego intact, while they share some of their concerns with their religious superiors.

      Key thing, keep in mind: most people have a level of consciousness where lying is enjoyable. Enjoy being honest and new discovery, a la Bill Nye. Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bail!

  32. I would say no more wrong than religious people talking people into their faith. Probably less of a moral issue considering some of the tactics used to convert non-believers. Sans browbeating, ridicule, and social pressure, people are free to choose whether to believe or not. Considering the influence of religion and upbringing (an environment that is most likely conducive to just accepting and believing), that choice may not come until later in life, i.e. when your talking to them. Talking to someone using reason and critical thinking, then letting them choose grants them a choice they may never really have had.

    A religious upbringing is an environment based on well-reasoned irrationality. Add to this the need for 2-income households, children spend little time with parents and not all topics will come up or be discussed in depth. Children are left to reason out for themselves an adult world where they are provided scant information that doesn’t cover everything. They will get more misinformation from their peers. And they don’t reason as adults. They grow up accepting paradoxes and strange absolutes. A perfect environment for the comfort of religion to cradle them in the knowledge that there is a purpose, even if they can’t see the big picture. They become parents with well-reasoned irrationality and the cycle continues.

    So, when someone comes along and helps them to learn to think for themselves, it can be unnerving and a shock. Whether or not they have the ability to reason beyond deluded beliefs, to step out of the paltry comfort of paradoxical faith and take comfort in reasoning and reality, what they choose to do is up to them.

    You can’t talk someone out of their religion. They have to shed it themselves. You can only present them with a reasoned alternative.

  33. I think it is a duty of all atheists to stand up for their views whenever the opportunity arises.
    The religious have never been slow to preach their doctrine.
    In the UK the Archbishop of Canterbury has stated that the Church should be ‘more confident and evangelical’ about the Christian faith.
    This does not mean that we have to browbeat religious people who keep their beliefs to themselves but we should not defer to them or hold back out of politeness if they do not keep their views to themselves or use religion to try and affect public policy or opinion.
    The religious leaders have historically relied on the suppression of any discussion , by for example blasphemy laws or persecution of non-believers, to maintain their power and status.
    One only has to see how Richard Dawkins is portrayed in the media to realise that they are terrified of anyone throwing light on the absurdity of religion by openly discussing it.
    There admittedly may be a danger of entrenching views if the atheist goes in too hard but unless someone takes responsibility and gives support to those who are having doubts then the religious leaders will always win.
    Atheists need to be more not less vocal so that those who are starting to doubt can feel that they are not alone.
    It is never wrong to show people the truth.

  34. Ok, here I go, I know that I am in the minority here, but I am willing to throw myself to the wolves for the sake of balance. I am a Christian and I agree that science can provide comfort in the area of physical health without faith, however faith provides spiritual comfort and knowledge that science cannot provide. Science is one discipline along with logic that can help verify or disprove a false belief but it cannot disprove God’s existence. If you ask which god, the only one that counts is the one that refuses to die and stay dead namely; Jesus.

    • In reply to #82 by Fieryhook:

      Ok, here I go, I know that I am in the minority here, but I am willing to throw myself to the wolves for the sake of balance.

      Grrrrrr! Snarl, Bark! Don’t worry though I’m a dog not a wolf and my bark is worse than my bite.

      I am a Christian and I agree that science can provide comfort in the area of physical health without faith,

      I don’t agree with that. Or at least I want to say it differently. Certainly science can “provide comfort” in that we get a lot of things from science that make life easier. But the main benefit of science IMO is not “providing comfort” it’s providing knowledge. And knowledge is not always comfortable in fact sometimes it can be downright uncomfortable. True knowledge means we often have to realize ideas that do give us comfort (e.g. the God hypothesis, that we continue to live and go to heaven after we die) aren’t well supported. It can often be very uncomforting to gain real knowledge.

      however faith provides spiritual comfort and knowledge that science cannot provide.

      I think that is an interesting open question. Are there some people who just need to believe in God regardless of what reason tells them? A lot of people that I respect, and some of them such as Scott Atran are atheists themselves, say yes. They would agree with you. I think Atran is wrong on this but I also think it’s really not a question anyone can claim to know the answer to yet.

      Certainly there are some people who don’t seem to need faith in God for comfort. Me for example as well as Prof. Dawkins, Atran, and most of the people who comment here. Whether there may be fundamental differences in people such that some of them require religious faith and some don’t I think is something we can’t know for sure yet. There is just too much about human cognition that is barely understood at the moment.

      But my strong intuition is that we don’t. If you look at the history of Western thought there is a steady progress from believing myths that put humans — and usually specific subsets of humans — at the center of things to accepting science and reason that show otherwise. We used to think the Earth was the center of the Universe. We used to think that some people were inherently better and could rationally claim to exploit other people based on minor differences such as skin color that science tells us are essentially meaningless. My strong intuition is that faith in God is just one more of those invalid ideas we have to get beyond.

    • In reply to #82 by Fieryhook:

      Ok, here I go, I know that I am in the minority here, but I am willing to throw myself to the wolves for the sake of balance. I am a Christian and I agree that science can provide comfort in the area of physical health without faith, however faith provides spiritual comfort

      What science seems to tell us about comfort and well being is that it is other people, their concern and attention for us, that may be most efficacious or at least maximise such comfort and well being that can be had. Being loved, being cared for, being part of a community.

      Christian faith may well be more effective in providing a friend for the friendless and a family for the orphaned, but Islamic communities may be richer and more supportive in themselves.

      The problem is the fragility of faith and faith based communities as science (and for that matter historical research) quite unintentionally erodes its narrative scope. Increasingly thrown back onto a metaphorical understanding, the efficacy of eternal friend and family wanes for increasing numbers.

      What religions seem to do is compartmentalise communities, demanding their own terms and conditions, sometimes in quite ambitious ways. This is a Christian country, an Islamic country. In these fragile and changing times we need to encourage pre-religious communities that we can all share. We need the opportunity to build communities that are supportive of and give comfort to everyone.

      It is surely the duty of all religious and non religious alike to work together towards achieving fully secular and broadly inclusive societies for the greater comfort and well being of all.

    • I agree that some people might find comfort in faith while others in science, which ever suits the individual is fine with me, however fundamentally that is just a secondary effect of the Christian faith. The main theme of the Bible is the redemption of man through Jesus Christ atonement for sin, it deals with a subject that none of us can solve namely; death, so in that sense we do need God.
      . In reply to #82 by Fiery-hook:

      Ok, here I go, I know that I am in the minority here, but I am willing to throw myself to the wolves for the sake of balance. I am a Christian and I agree that science can provide comfort in the area of physical health without faith, however faith provides spiritual comfort and knowledge that scienc…

      • In reply to #85 by Fieryhook:

        however fundamentally that is just a secondary effect of the Christian faith. The main theme of the Bible is the redemption of man through Jesus Christ atonement for sin, it deals with a subject that none of us can solve namely; death, so in that sense we do need God.

        But that’s a circular argument Fieryhook. If there really is no God in the first place then there is no sin either and there is no need for redemption.

        I can tell you I function just fine without any “redemption”. Of course I assume you might say “well you are going to hell” but that doesn’t scare me because I’m quite confidant that hell doesn’t exist and when you are dead you are dead so you had better make the most of your life while you are lucky enough to have it.

        And while I’ve known some Christians who were exceptionally moral people, in general I’ve seen no correlation between believing in sin and people who behave ethically. Actually, if anything I’ve noticed an inverse correlation, that in general people who believe in sin tend to be far more prone to rationalization and self deception and hence both less happy and less moral. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people most likely to be discovered cheating on their wives doing drugs with gay prostitutes are people like Ted Haggard

      • In reply to #85 by Fieryhook:

        …a subject that none of us can solve namely; death…

        I don’t understand the problem. Death is our friend. Without it evolution could not have brought us here looking out at the stars with a glimmer of understanding, with more adventures ahead for our children’s children.

        Pain today is the problem.

        Personal salvation has always struck me as the ultimate narcisism. So often, these days Christian faiths become evangelical and inward looking, fussing endlessly over this issue and warning unconcerned others by way of shoring up their crumbling edges. (Any outward looking also becomes predatory.) To me it has utterly lost that outward easy embracing of real life as our proper daily concern. The acme of Christian thinking for me is the Quakers of whom I speak warmly here. These are moralists of the highest order for me having the view that moral decision making is what they (and we all) are equipped for, and that that is our daily task. The very stuff of their faith is to be outward facing and engage positively in the world. These are religious folk who seem to have far less angst about their own souls, perhaps feeling the only way to attend to it is to make the best of the here and now using all their skills and insight ….carte blanche.

        They and atheist, soulless I could share a comforting community.

      • In reply to #85 by Fieryhook:

        I agree that some people might find comfort in faith while others in science, which ever suits the individual is fine with me,

        That is a false dichotomy. Comfort can be obtained from friends and family. The study of science, provides practical solutions to problems, so while scientific comfort may come from central heating, or medication such as pain-killers, If I have a broken leg, science can provide a repair as a healing solution. Religious “comfort” cannot!

        however fundamentally that is just a secondary effect of the Christian faith. The main theme of the Bible is the redemption of man through Jesus Christ atonement for sin,

        That of course requires a childish literal belief in the reality of “The Fall” of the mythical Adam and Eve in the mythical “Garden of Eden”, without which there is no need for the mythical requirement of “redemption”.

        Your claim of course, only refers to selected passages of the New Testament NOT “The Bible” – which is full of all sorts of conflicting themes and claims.

        it deals with a subject that none of us can solve namely; death, so in that sense we do need God.

        You have it backwards. I accept death of those past and for myself in the future, but I am prepared to use medical science to postpone it.

        It is delusions about death, and the unwillingness to face reality, which helps sustain the god-delusions in religions. Even some Buddhists who do not believe in gods, dodge the issue of death believing in reincarnation as animals.

        Wish-thinking delusions based on denial of unpalatable truths, are common features of religions.

        You have correctly identified that fear of death and the wish to avoid death, leads to belief in false promises of “eternal life” in return for a lifetime of metal slavery and material/financial contributions, to the leaders of religions and cults.

        Of course, none of their followers return from the dead to complain they have been cheated!!

    • In reply to #82 by Fieryhook:

      I am a Christian and I agree that science can provide comfort in the area of physical health without faith, however faith provides spiritual comfort and knowledge that science cannot provide.

      Actually science can provide a very similar comfort in the form of medications – some of which, like religious thinking, can blot out harsh realities and become addictive – or induce irrational fears or psychosis.

      Religion can only provide delusion, not knowledge. Faith is a totally unreliable basis for understanding life and the universe. It has been consistently proved no better than random speculation many, many times. It is only by “believing” cherry picked items, that people are led to think otherwise.

      Science is one discipline along with logic that can help verify or disprove a false belief but it cannot disprove God’s existence.

      Science has refuted claims about gods since time immemorial, where there have been clearly defined claims of effects or god-activities in the material world.

      Claims which lack clearly defined definitions and are simple too vague to have any of their substance identified cannot be refuted because of their lack of substance. The onus of responsibility lies with those making claims – especially supernatural claims which conflict with well evidenced scientific laws. Extra-ordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      If you ask which god, the only one that counts is the one that refuses to die and stay dead namely; Jesus.

      That is simply your personal opinion, based on myths you we told in childhood by people you trusted. Millions of people (past and present) hold/held different conflicting personal opinions List of deities – From Wikipedia just as strongly as you do, using their similar “faith” in trusted story-tellers as a basis for belief in these myths in the absence of objective research or physical evidence.

      Asserting “My god exists and is the only right one”, is hardly a basis for a hypothesis or theory of the universe. It is a no more valid claim than those for the thousands of other gods (and versions of gods) on the Wiki link.

      namely; Jesus.

      I think you would have difficulty finding any confirmed or consistent historical evidence that such an individual person existed, let alone evidence that he had supernatural powers. All the stories, were written decades or centuries later!

      Even within the Christian faiths, there have been numerous contradictory versions of stories in many “gospels”( http://gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html) which were ditched as inconvenient to the tools of Constantine’s Roman Empire around AD 325. – Not to mention the inventions and elaborations of the stories in the following centuries!

      Science has a much more credible explanation for gods as a feature of parts of the human brain which are vulnerable to indoctrination during development. Richard explains gods in his book: http://www.richarddawkins.net/books/2013/8/1/the-god-delusion#

    • In reply to #82 by Fieryhook:

      Ok, here I go, I know that I am in the minority here, but I am willing to throw myself to the wolves for the sake of balance.

      Fieryhook, we don’t need balance. We just need people to talk sense. Would you say that because most people believe the earth is round ‘for balance’ I should say it is flat? Some views can be 100% right and some views can be 100% wrong and there is no virtue in joining the wrong crowd, simply for balance.

      Apart from that, don’t you think you are being a touch dramatic about being thrown to the wolves? This is the internet where you can switch off your computer with a click. This hardly puts you up there with the early Christian martyrs.

    • In reply to #94 by FranktheMc:

      Anyone who can get talked out of his or her faith doesn’t have much of a faith to begin with.

      Anyone who can’t be talked out of his or her faith-based perceptions, is not open to up-dating their views on reality in the light of new evidence.

  35. Yes

    it’s also wrong to talk people out of abusive relationships, substance dependency, homophobic/racist/xenophobic views, destructive self-image issues and jumping off a bridge.

    you say “councelling”, I say militant rational extremism

  36. I am quite happy to live my life believing that there probably isn’t a God, or gods. I can do so and remain a “good” person, by my definiton of the term. But I am probably somewhere in the top few percentiles of the human race in terms of education, wealth, security, and other privileges. Is everyone really ready for that realisation? I’m not sure. What if a significant proportion of society really would go off the rails if the face of a life devoid of a handed-down-from-on-high meaning or moral framework? I hope that this fear is unfounded, I really do, but I do worry about it.

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